WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican Senator Susan Collins and Democrat Joe Manchin on Wednesday called for a revision of the 19th-century Electoral Count Act, urging swift approval of a bipartisan compromise that would make it harder for a losing candidate to run for legitimate the results of a presidential election.
Proposals from their group of 16 senators — nine Republicans and seven Democrats — are in response to former President Donald Trump and his allies pushing courts, state legislators and Congress to somehow reverse his 2020 loss to President Joe Biden to make. Trump’s efforts culminated in the violence of January 6, 2021, when hundreds of his followers pushed the police past and broke into the Capitol while Congress certified the results.
An update to the electoral law is “something our country desperately needs,” Manchin said Wednesday, testifying at a Senate hearing on the bill. “The time for Congress to act is now.”
Manchin and Collins, who last month tabled a series of proposals to reform the law, along with 14 other senators, are pushing for the legislation to be passed before the end of the January congressional session. The bills could take a more difficult path after November’s midterm elections as Republicans take over the House, where Democrats make a separate effort to review the law.
“This is something we should not carry into another election cycle,” said Missouri Senator Roy Blunt, the top Republican on the Senate committee who has backed the effort.
The Electoral Count Act of 1887 governs the counting and certifying of electoral votes in presidential elections and has long been criticized as secretive, vaguely written, and vulnerable to abuse. Those fears were realized after the 2020 contest as Trump’s allies worked to exploit those weaknesses, pushing states to propose alternative electoral lists and pressuring Vice President Mike Pence to take his ceremonial role in the January 6 joint congressional session. to object to the results or delay certification.
The bipartisan group of senators spent months trying to agree on a way to revamp the process, finally settling on the string of proposals tabled last month.
The legislation would add a series of safeguards to the electoral count, raising the thresholds for challenging results so that state or federal officials cannot exploit loopholes to argue for a preferred candidate.
It would reinforce that the vice president’s role on the electoral count is “exclusively ministerial”, with no power to change the results. It would make it clear that Congress can only accept the one legitimate list of voters from each state and make it harder for members of both parties to object to the results. And it would hit an outdated law that could allow some state legislators to overturn the popular vote.
“Nothing is more essential to the survival of a democracy than the orderly transfer of power,” said Maine Senator Collins, who testified alongside Manchin of West Virginia. “And there is nothing more essential to an orderly transfer of power than clear rules for making it happen.”
It’s unclear how quickly the Senate could act when he returns from his fall vacation in August. Both Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell have expressed their support, and the legislation is expected to have enough support to allay any objections and put in the 50-50 Senate to succeed.
However, roadblocks await in the House, where some Democrats wish the bill would do much more. The House panel investigating the January 6 uprising and the House Administration Committee have been working on similar proposals and promise to release them soon.
While overwhelmingly supportive of the Senate’s current proposal, legal experts who testified at the hearing identified some potential sticking points. They recommended some adjustments, including better defining the specific grounds members of Congress can use when objecting to a state’s voters during congressional certification and making it even harder for state legislators to delay or ignore a vote. by declaring a “failed election”.
The Senate compromise would already change an 1845 law that allows states to call “failed elections,” allowing a state to change the timing of the election only in “extraordinary and catastrophic” circumstances, but the experts said that might wouldn’t be enough. They said such circumstances should be set forth — a natural disaster that prevents many people from making the polls, for example — and not just what state lawmakers deem a “catastrophic” election result.
The panel of experts, including Bob Bauer, White House adviser to the Obama administration, and Brookings Institution Fellow Norm Eisen, said urgent action is needed while recommending changes.
“Jan. 6 is over, but the danger is not over,” said Eisen, who served as an attorney for the House Judiciary Committee during Trump’s first impeachment.
The proposals introduced by the bipartisan group last month also include: enhanced security for state and local election officialswho have experienced violence and intimidation, including double penalties for those who threaten or intimidate election officials.
Some of those election officials testified Wednesday in a separate Senate Judiciary hearing, in which they asked Congress to change federal law to include harsh penalties for those who threaten or harm anyone involved in election administration — and to restrict access. restricted to individuals seeking personal information from election officials.
New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said threats to election integrity are mounting by the day, pointing to the recent case in her state of a district commissioner who refused to certify the results of a primary.
“For the election officials and volunteer pollsters on whom our elections depend, I fear that threats and intimidation will cause them so much stress and insecurity that they will simply give up working for voters,” she said.
Associated Press writer Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report.